Human Rights in Saudi Arabia — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:12 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:12 pm, 18th July 2019

I did not realise that my right hon. Friend was behind me, so I do not know whether he was in the Chamber when I made exactly that point about those who are detained in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. Getting proof of life is crucial. That is something that we should not have to demand; it is something that should be provided routinely. If Saudi Arabia wishes to move among the developed nations of the world as an equal partner, that is something it should wish to take on board for itself.

An investigation by The Daily Telegraph this year revealed that hundreds of Saudi police officers were trained in Britain in 2018, despite the risk that the skills acquired here could be used by the regime to commit human rights abuses. With no transparency about the training taking place, it remains entirely unclear what safeguards have been placed on this assistance to ensure that it does not contribute to severe human rights abuses.

Furthermore, real questions hang over continued UK funding in Saudi Arabia through cross-departmental funds such as the integrated activity fund. The IAF is a cross-departmental fund earmarked exclusively for co-operation with gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, on security and justice assistance. Under the auspices of the Foreign Office, the IAF is overseen by the Gulf national security secretariat implementation group, which consists of representatives from Departments responsible for delivering the Gulf strategy, including the FCO, the Home Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for International Trade, the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

We know, because the Foreign Office has confirmed it, that the IAF’s allocation is £80 million over the current spending review period. What we have not heard from the Government is any detail on how the programme uses its funds. I would like at least an explanation for that basic lack of transparency. For a fund that covers only six countries, unlike the 90 countries covered by the conflict, stability and security fund, for example, the Government refuse to provide any details of the breakdown of spending across the country or within the region, claiming that no breakdown is possible, since:

“Many of the projects and programme activity are delivered regionally”.

In any circumstance, that would be a pretty thin defence, but in the context of everything that we know and see to be going on in Saudi Arabia, if that is where the British taxpayers’ money is being spent, at the very least we should be given a proper explanation of the spending and not some obfuscation according to accounting practices.

The Government continue to refuse to provide any information to parliamentarians about the use of IAF funds in Saudi Arabia. That, of course, raises real questions about why the Government refuse to provide that information in this age. If there is to be a bid for the IAF to continue beyond 2020, which we understand is already under consideration, surely it is critical that Members of this House get answers on just what the funds are being used for and what safeguards exist to ensure that they will not lead to further and more egregious abuses of human rights.

I have three final questions for the Minister. First, will the Government confirm that the Foreign Office will make urgent representations to its Saudi counterparts to ensure that the three individuals currently on death row in Saudi Arabia will have their sentences commuted and receive a full pardon? Given the inadequacies of the process that has brought them to this point, if the Government are serious about a policy of opposing the death penalty in all circumstances, that is the very least we should do.

Secondly, will the Government commit to publishing information on all programmes currently engaging with Saudi Arabia, including the programme documentation and assessment frameworks, and assessments under the overseas security and justice assistance guidance? Thirdly, will the Government commit to providing full breakdowns of all projects funded under the integrated activity fund, including the countries and institutions receiving funds under that programme, and details of each project’s human rights assessment under the overseas security and justice assistance guidance?

It is all very well to stand here, in the comfort of the House of Commons, and criticise Saudi Arabia for its human rights, but I am pretty sure that, if we were to go out and ask anybody we stopped on the street here what they thought of the treatment of detainees and citizens in Saudi Arabia, they would be pretty appalled. I think they would actually be angry if they knew that money paid by taxpayers in this country was being used in such a way that it could contribute to and abet those human rights abuses, and that no explanation for that would be forthcoming. That is why I think it is important that the House debates this subject today. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the time, and I hope that we will have time to hear the fullest possible answers from the Minister.